The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union representing employees, announced the work stoppage Monday night after the two parties failed to reach a deal by the midnight deadline. About 3,200 workers are off the job.
In a statement Tuesday morning, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called on the federal government to step in and enact emergency back-to-work legislation for CN Rail.
“Parliament is scheduled to return on Dec. 5. Unfortunately, even this short wait could result in serious damage not just to the Alberta economy, but to the Canadian economy as a whole,” the minister said in a media release.
“CN Rail regularly ships in excess of 170,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil per day. Any disruption in shipments would have serious consequences for an economy that is already dealing with severe bottlenecks due to cancelled and delayed pipelines. Alberta cannot see further restrictions on our ability to export our product.”
Alberta’s minister of Agriculture and Forestry echoed the call.
“Alberta farmers depend on rail to get their world-class products to market. We have seen the severe consequences of rail backlogs before. Farmers don’t need the added pain from compounding rail delays, especially after this difficult harvest. Now is the time to act,” Devin Dreeshen said in a statement Tuesday.
A spokesperson with Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said they are still in talks with CN in hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement and ending the labour dispute as soon as possible.
The workers, who have been without a contract since July 23, say they’re concerned about long hours, fatigue and what they consider dangerous working conditions.
“It’s not about wages. The strike is about safety,” said Matt Wade with Teamsters Canada, who was on the picket line in Edmonton on Tuesday.
“The men and women at Teamster rail, the conductors here, we work 24/7, 365 days a year, evenings, days, weekends, all major holidays. We work in all weather conditions and we do this all on two hours’ notice. We dedicate our lives to this company.
“We need more time at home with our loved ones. We deserve more time at home with our loved ones. We deserve to be able to be fit and rested for the safety of not only every Teamsters rail member here at CN Rail, but for the general public. We roll through every major urban city in Canada with dangerous commodities. We’re the ones doing it. We’re happy to do it. We want to do it. We dedicate our lives to this company, like I said, we just want a better quality of life.”
On Tuesday, the federal government urged CN Rail and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference to continue negotiating.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is concerned about the impact of a work stoppage on Canadians, but remains hopeful the two sides will reach an agreement.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh weighed in on the strike Tuesday, saying he is firmly opposed to back-to-work legislation.
“I’m firmly opposed to that being the reason to bring back the House,” he said.
“There should be a free and open process, there should be negotiating and the workers’ concerns should be addressed.”
CN Rail said it would return to the bargaining table Tuesday with the assistance of federal mediators.
With files from The Canadian Press.